28 August 2011

"kulo kulo mia njei vi "
Small water makes a big ocean

As Seen on TV

When you go on a big trip in Sierra Leone, you are often given a wonderful farewell, hugs and blessings for traveling mercies. However, you are always asked to ‘send for me" or a.k.a bring me back gifts. So in fine SL style, I brought back gifts from America. Just the usual, earrings and girly things for my neighbor ‘sisters’, a bible for Rev. Mammah, candy, photos and general Americanness. But the most excited came from my boys’ Bockie and Fonnie.

Now, first a little background on these two. Bockie is in SSSI or like a freshman in high school at Fergusson Boys School which is considered the male equivalent of Harford in Moyamba. He is extremely smart but also extremely troublesome. Bockie generally just does his own thing around campus, coming and going as he pleases and doing what every teenage boy does, pesters his mother. However, Bockie is charming and respectful. Then we get to Mr. Fonnie. He is the worker bee of the household. Actually, a grandson of Rev. Mammah’s husband and hoping to start his secondary school career this upcoming academic year, Fonnie is the wheels of the family always running up and down on errands. The most helpful and hardworking boy I have met in Africa. Sometimes I wonder is Fonnie is just lurking outside my door waiting for me to ask him for assistance. I just yell "Fonnie" and within five seconds I get the reply, "Allison, look me". I send him to get stuff for me all the time and reward him with starburst and jolly ranchers. Hope I am not ruining his wonderfully white teeth.

Being the active teenage boys that they are, I decide every young man needs play catch, so only fitting to get them Americany baseball mitts and baseballs. They were ecstatic and I had never seen them speechless. Until Fonnie goes almost out of breath, "It’s just like on TV, Bockie!" If these boys’ hand eye coordination is as good as their foot eye coordination, the minor leagues better watch out….(however, it’s rainy monsoon time right now and I haven’t yet seen their skills)
He made the cuts, let them bleed, mumbled in Mende and finally rubbed charcoal into my skin and said, "Now if you are given a plate of food and your hand starts to tremble, don’t eat it. If a friend ask you to do something for him and your heart starts to race, don’t do it. If your friend asks you to go somewhere and your heart goes cold, don’t go. No man business for three days and no washing for three days. You should be protected from snakes, witch gun, poison and general evil, have a nice day"

- Medicine Man Bob.

27 August 2011

Welcomed Back

I found my place in a familiar place but in unfamiliar condition. My plane was slowing descending towards Joe Foss Field after a long 30 hour journey. Familiar. What was weird wasn’t the bright South Dakota summer sun coming through the window or the corn in full tassel. It was all usual. It was me who was changed.

I have heard that many volunteers ring in that year mark without many bells and whistles. For me, the novelty of it my PC life had worn off and I looked forward to a much needed break and hoped to become refreshed, rejuvenated. So I called Dad and decided to take my African self back home to SD.
My welcome back started out in Chicago, it had been a full year since I had seen or experienced the hustle and bustle of the developed world. It was surreal and overwhelming. Everyone was so clean and I felt like I still had the dust bush road on my face. I strangely bought freshly brewed coffee at the Starbucks and Mende greeted the clerk and was startled by the lovely, huge, perfectly, unblemished, awkwardly yellow bananas. It was too much; I had a breakdown in the pristine bathroom. This only made me more nervous to see my family and friends, who by the way didn’t know I was coming. Would I be an awkward mess all the time, with weird pauses in middle of conversations, heading to any available bathroom because I didn’t know when I would see the next one and longing to eat out of the same bowl but the tone changed immediately when the planes wheels hit the upper Midwest.

So only my parents, little brother and a few friends knew I was coming home, so for a good week I had a spectacular surprising everyone. Here are the highlights. First on the list, Grandpa Sinning and Judy. Judy was speechless and the first thing that came out of her mother was "Hank, put your pants on and get out here." (mind you it was late at night and retired to bed for the night) Grandpa obeyed and was glad he did. Next came Grandma Ida, who it’s hard to get something past her. She promptly told me to come over. But the best was probably my Aunts Becky and Kathy with a special shouts out to my friends’ reactions which involved lots of tears. So the day after I arrived in Sioux Falls, my Mom set up a ‘happy hour’ surprise for my friends at one of the local watering holes. Chelsie was at a loss for words (which is hard to do) but everything unfolded when my Aunts Becky and Kathy crashed the party. Becky had seen me earlier and brought Kathy for a chat with my Mom. She wasn’t wearing her glasses but could figure out the online of me and came running. Well I didn’t see the jump over her screaming, so when she hit me we both fell to the floor and ended up rolling on the ground, yep in front of some creepy old guys. After that we crashed my friends wine club where I met more screams and tears. It was so great to see everyone. The rest of the aunts and family were surprising phone conversations!

It’s hard to encompass the entire SD visit into a blog without it getting extremely long. But once again the highlights: Family! Family eating together, family watching TV together, family laughing together, just being with my family who I know I didn’t have to impress with my language skills or worry about if I was doing enough or worry if I am being culturally appropriate, just being with my biological family (who have to love me no matter what…wink wink)! Friends! Shopping with them, going out, gossiping, talking about our futures once again and embracing their new African names. Kudos for Amy and I‘s second attempt at a fiesta. Success! And it ended with a rap show! Finally, I really just realized how much I missed Mexican food. A highlight needs to be all the tacos I consumed.

It was hard to leave my family, old friends, new friends and the general normalness of being home. This is where I need to say a very special Thank You to each and every one of you who made my SD vacation a fantastic one! Tenki Tenki plenty! Biaka Biaka we! I felt better and am again excited about Peace Corps, my service and getting back to work. This feeling was only reaffirmed by my first five minutes of being back at Harford School. Having toted my heavy bags for 30 hours and 6,000 miles, I knew I only had a matter of feet until I would be rid of them. However, when I walked around the corner into my front yard, I dropped the bags from a shriek of excitement. My neighbor kids all came dashing to greet me with a group hug (which almost took me to the ground once again). They must have thought I wasn’t going to come back.
South Dakota was just as I had left it, only I had brought the African heat with me back and Moyamba was just as I had left it, only with a monsoon pelting it every afternoon. I realized how content I am in both places and completely relieved to know that I can be welcomed back to both no matter how much time has passed.